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Friday, August 13, 2010



Composting...what is it and why should we do it?

A contribution from an MNS Kuching member and self-confessed “composter”.  If you have your own composting tales, we’d love to hear from you!
Earth knows no desolation.
She smells regeneration in the moist breath of decay.
-   George Meredith
Composting may be regarded as the deliberate recycling of waste organic matter. In nature it happens all the time...leaves on the forest floor gradually decompose and provide nutrients for the trees to use again. If you dump a load of mown grass in a particular area, eventually it will rot down to a fine tilth probably teeming with earthworms, which will be an excellent fertiliser for your garden!

When we compost we organise this process in our own backyards. We gather organic waste from our kitchens and our gardens and so treat it that it turns into wonderful fertiliser for our plants. This process is beneficial to us in many ways:

Ø  It provides a useful means of disposing of organic garbage. No more smelly prawn and fish wastes in our rubbish bins!! 

Ø  It provides us ultimately with excellent fertiliser for our gardens.

Ø  In sorting out our compostable organic waste from our garbage, we reduce the massive amount of rubbish that needs to be collected and disposed of somewhere in our local area. In particular it provides a means of disposing of the kind of garbage that is smelly, messy and attracts flies!!

Ø  Composting is also a particularly satisfying activity. There is a real feel-good sensation about making something useful out of waste. Be warned, you can become so hooked on composting that you go actively seeking organic waste beyond the actual perimeters of your home compound!! Even if you do not have an extensive garden, you will find that you have plenty of organic waste to keep your compost bin happy, and your pot-plants will enjoy the resulting fertiliser.

I have many books on the subject of composting, and if you go into the subject scientifically, you can spend a lot of time worrying about the correct ratios of nitrogen to carbon. In fact, as a life-long composter I have never worried too much about such matters. All you have to do is keep an eye on your bin and respond to its needs!!

First of all what can you compost? Well, to begin with, dead leaves and grass and plants from your garden. The latter compost much more successfully if they are chopped up (or cut with secateurs) into smallish pieces. Bacteria are going to work on these plants to turn them into soil, and the more surfaces they have to work on the quicker the process will be. Then there is all the organic matter from your kitchen. All the fruit peels, prawn and fish wastes, chicken bones and feathers, durian skins, outer leaves of vegetables, dead flowers from your vases, hair, dust from your vacuum cleaner, eggshells (best crushed a bit)....anything from plant or animal sources except  cat and dog excreta which can present a health hazard.

Now what do you do with all these things? What my father did in his New Zealand garden, and what I have done for years in my Sarawak gardens, is have a couple of enclosures made of either timber or concrete blocks with removable boards in the front to assist in the removal of the final compost. One of these bins is in active construction; the other is left to decompose into compost. A cover of some sort is provided to shelter the bin from heavy rain and keep out marauding animals. The mixture needs to have moisture to rot, so the cover can be left off sometimes to let some rain in, but too much water will wash all the nutrients out of your pile.

To start the composting, you gather a lot of dry leaves, grass clippings and chopped-up garden waste and pile it all in the bin. Then, every day you dig a hole in the leaves, empty your kitchen compost-collecting bucket into the middle, and carefully cover it up again so that it is not open to flies and does not smell. If you dig your holes in careful rotation eventually you will have dumped your kitchen waste (which provides the nitrogen starter) pretty much throughout the bin. If the mixture is sufficiently damp, decomposition will start at once, and the whole pile will become very hot. This is very desirable. After a few days, the pile will be cool, and it is good at this stage to stir it all up with a garden digging fork, to get the pile to heat up again. Then you can let the pile rest under its cover, while you start bin number two.

These days plastic composting bins are beginning to become available in this country. These make the process a whole lot easier, because you have a ready-made receptacle with a lid in which to make your compost. However the same principles apply. You must have a mix of dry leaves, chopped up green matter etc, and kitchen wastes (or handfuls of chicken manure) and the mixture must be just moist enough to start the decaying process. The contents will heat up as in the open bins. A good stirring up is also useful to hasten the decomposition. And it is best to have more than one bin so that you can leave one to finish off, while you start a new one.

It is incredibly exciting to harvest your bin when you have finished! If you have left it to finish off as suggested above, it will often have many earthworms in it. These are further improving your finished product...in fact in many parts of the world worm farming is practised as a slightly different means of composting!! Worm casts are held to be one of the best fertilisers you can get!!

It will be of real benefit to the community if such compost bins can become easily and cheaply available....and if members of the public can be encouraged to obtain them and use them!! It will also of course be in the interest of the local authorities to do everything possible to encourage the composting habit to reduce the volume of garbage!!

For more information check out A Complete Guide to Composting at: http://www.compostguide.com/

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